How to Safely Exercise When Pregnant

Remaining active during a pregnancy may help reduce some discomforts and help prepare the body for delivery. Acute exercise generally increases oxygen uptake, heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output, and lung volume during pregnancy. Remember to complete the “PARmed-X for Pregnancy” health screening prior to participation in a prenatal fitness class or other exercise. Medical clearance should be obtained prior to exercise for women who were sedentary prior to pregnancy or have a medical condition.


  • reduced backaches
  • reduced constipation and bloating
  • may help prevent gestational diabetes
  • improved weight management
  • increase in energy
  • improved mood
  • improved posture
  • better sleep patterns
  • development of muscle tone
  • promotes strength and endurance
  • better coping with labour

Contraindications to Exercise:

Absolute Contraindications:

  • hemodynamically significant heart disease
  • restrictive lung disease
  • incompetent cervix/cerciage
  • multiple gestation at risk for premature labour
  • persistent second or third trimester bleeding
  • placenta prevue after 26th week of gestation
  • premature labour during current pregnancy
  • ruptured membranes
  • preeclampsia/pregnancy-induced hypertension

Relative Contraindications:

  • severe anemia
  • unevaluated maternal cardiac dysrhythmia
  • chronic bronchitis
  • poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes mellitus
  • extreme morbid obesity
  • extreme underweight
  • history of extremely sedentary lifestyle
  • intrauterine growth restriction in current pregnancy
  • poorly controlled hypertension
  • orthopaedic limitations
  • poorly controlled seizure disorder
  • poorly controlled hyperthyroidism
  • heavy smoker

Warning Signs to Terminate Exercise Session

  • vaginal bleeding
  • dyspnea before exertion
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • chest pain
  • muscle weakness
  • calf pain or swelling
  • preterm labour
  • decreased fetal movement
  • amniotic fluid leakage

Exercise Recommendations:

Aerobic Exercise

Frequency: 3-4 days per week (women who exercise less than 2 days or greater than 5 days may increase their risk of having a low-birth-weight baby) 
Intensity: Moderate intensity exercise is encouraged for women with a pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 kg per squared meter. However, women with a pre-pregnancy BMI of greater than 25 kg per squared meter should engage in light intensity exercise.
Time: More than 15 minutes per day is recommended. Individuals may gradually increase the duration to a maximum of 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise for a total of 120 minutes per week. A 10-15 minute warm-up before exercise and 10-15 minute cool-down of light physical activity after a training session is recommended. 
Type of Exercise: Use large muscle groups in dynamic, rhythmic physical activities.

Resistance Exercise

One to three sets of 10-15 reps with approximately 2-3 minutes rest in between each set is recommended. Engage in light to moderate resistance exercises. The following are sample routines according to different trimesters from Brad Schoenfeld (NSCA). 

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